Forecasts show that oil and gas will remain a vital part of the energy mix for the foreseeable future, including under net zero. In response, companies across the industry are looking for ways to manage the decline in production whilst maximising the value from the UKCS as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

Last month, energy companies from across the world logged on to the SPE Aberdeen Well Decommissioning Symposium and Decom North Sea’s virtual Decom Week. With key stakeholders including operators, supply chain, SMEs and consultants in attendance, there was one main question on everyone’s mind: how do we achieve net zero?

In this blog post, we talk about our key takeaways from the events, highlight future themes and discuss the steps companies can take to help the industry achieve net zero.

Achieving net zero

Scotland has committed to achieving net-zero by 2045, which is a significant undertaking for the industry. Throughout both events, industry experts from around the world came together to discuss how new technologies can help cut costs while also decreasing the industry’s carbon footprint.

There is an incredible amount of work being done to help with the transition. As companies continue to pivot their strategy and diversify their approach, we are seeing more and more innovative ways to support the industry achieving net zero emissions. Some of my favourite takeaways from the events include…

1. Introducing carbon capture and storage (CCS)

    Although achieving net-zero is the priority, we have to be realistic about the process. Several industries, such as cement manufacture, steel works, and gas processing, generate significant carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as part of their processes. It is not feasible to stop these processes entirely at this stage, as we still rely heavily on these industries and products. As a result, using new technologies for carbon capture and storage is a ‘counter approach’ that will be fundamental as we continue a phased approach to net zero.

    As part of its roadmap, the OGA has stipulated that businesses need to look at whether or not a reservoir or formation that their well penetrates can be reused for CCS when decommissioning. If a reservoir is unsuitable, then it is ok to continue with the approved plug and abandonment techniques however, if it is suitable, then companies will have to consider the potential for CCS repurposing within their P&A planning"

    At the moment, the industry doesn’t have any guidelines on how to abandon a well for CCS, however there are working groups collaborating to develop industry guidelines. Additionally, supply chain teams are considering the suitability of their P&A solutions for wells penetrating CO2 stores.

    For example, the team at Aubin has been researching the potential for using our P&A technology, Xclude, in such wells. The properties of Xclude mean that it will not be degraded by exposure to CO2, both in supercritical form and solutions. Assuming that P&A guidelines for wells penetrating CO2 storage formations will be similar to standard oil and gas wells, Xclude could offer an excellent option for the primary, reservoir barrier.

    2. Converting wells for geothermal energy

      Geothermal energy is the heat that comes from the sub-surface of the earth. To produce power from geothermal energy, wells are drilled deep into underground reservoirs to access high temperature formations. Hot water or steam can be accessed or generated by pumping water into the well, which can then be returned to the surface and used to drive turbines connected to electricity generators.

      Although this isn’t a new technology, the use of geothermal energy is becoming increasingly popular within the industry. Research would indicate that as we see an increase in the number of homes being powered by geothermal technology, more companies may look to repurpose decommissioned oil and gas wells.

      In order to be able to repurpose oil and gas wells for geothermal purposes, P&A must be carefully considered. Hydrocarbon bearing zones must be isolated safely, yet access to the hot regions within the well must be maintained. Traditional P&A methods which create barriers in the wellbore, may preclude the repurposing of wells for geothermal, as access to regions below the plugged section is lost. However, creating a behind casing permanent barrier in the reservoir using Xclude means full wellbore access can be maintained. Xclude could offer a method to isolate selected zones for multi-well geothermal systems, or entire intervals in standalone geothermal wells.

      3. Increased number of wind farms

        The use of wind farms in an oil and gas setting is quite interesting. Traditionally, a company would be powered by the gas produced on the platform which is expensive to operate and emit significant amounts of CO2 and NOx. In response to this, more companies are powering their platforms via wind turbines instead.

        The amount of energy required to power a platform is quite significant. In addition to the machinery and equipment required for operations, power is also needed for staff cabins, catering and other communal areas. As most of the infrastructure required is already there, it’s relatively easy for a company to position a wind turbine within close proximity to the rig, and use the energy produced to power their platform.

        4. Repurposing for hydrogen generation

          The use of hydrogen as a clean fuel is becoming increasingly of interest as we look to transition from fossil fuels to zero emissions energy sources.

          Green hydrogen is generated through the electrolysis of water, and therefore generates no carbon emissions. Repurposing offshore infrastructure, including platforms and pipelines, for hydrogen generation and transport, has been recognised as an excellent opportunity to both reduce decommissioning costs and transition to zero-emissions fuels. Electricity could be generated using wind turbines installed on the platform, and water is abundant in an offshore environment, making it a renewable option. Several projects are now underway to develop this concept.”

          Blue hydrogen is generated through the processing of natural gas, creating hydrogen and CO2. Blue hydrogen generation will require the implementation of CCS if it is to be emissions free, further emphasising the requirement to accelerate development of CCS technologies.”

          Although the approach may vary, the underlying theme remains the same. Industry experts across the UK are working together to develop a roadmap that will contribute towards green recovery, reduce its own emissions and help the country decarbonise at a pace.

          As a team, Aubin is continually looking for new and alternative ways to support the move towards net-zero energy. The team is excited to be researching and developing innovative solutions, working with partners on projects that will help to support decarbonisation.